Labor of Love: Charlie’s minor league journey

 

By Mark Hodapp

It was a hard pill for Charlie Hopkins to swallow.

After spending nine seasons
in the St. Louis Browns organization,
Hopkins retired from
baseball in 1955 when he was
only 29.
“I wouldn’t take a million
dollars for the good time that I
had,” he says.
Hopkins, now 84, lives in
Columbia, Ill.
Charlie couldn’t help but
reminisce about his own playing
career after watching his
grandson, Gabe Hopkins, play
with the Waterloo High School
baseball team this spring.
A 2011 graduate, Gabe is
now playing with the Waterloo
Millers.
“The only advice I ever gave
to Gabe was just to swing the
bat,” Charlie says. “Don’t ever
get called out. That aggravates a
manager.”
For Charlie, baseball was a
labor of love.
He still loves the
game, and is sometimes its
“biggest critic.”
After graduating from Central
Catholic High School in
East Louis, Ill., in 1945, Charlie was
drafted and served in the U.S.
Navy.
Charlie was in basic training
when World War II ended, and
served 14 months.
After being discharged in
1946, he returned home and
worked as an apprentice with
the iron workers, following in
his dad’s footsteps.
He recalls his dad being un-
Browns for a $125 monthly salary
and $200 signing bonus in
1947.
Charlie was making $160 a
month as an iron worker.
“My dad didn’t think it was a
great deal,” he says.
Charlie was a catcher the
majority of his career.
However, he played in the
outfield with the Newark
Moundsmen of the Ohio State
League during his first professional
season.
Charlie, who was then 21,
had a career year. He hit .277
with 23 doubles, 17 triples, seven
home runs and 93 RBIs. He
also stole 15 bases.
He was promoted to Ada,
Okla. the following season. The
Herefords played in a rodeo
stadium, Charlie recalls.
“There wasn’t a blade of
grass,” he says. “And when the
rodeo would come to town, we
went on a road trip. When we
came home, the field was a
complete dust bowl. The guys
used to say a rabbit would have
to get its lunch across the
street.”
Charlie played with the
Springfield Barons in 1950. He
thought he had a chance to
make the big leagues that
spring.
Browns starting catcher Les
Moss underwent hemorrhoid
surgery in 1949.
But the Browns had other
ideas in mind, acquiring Sherman
Lollar from the Yankees in
a trade.
Instead of making it to the
big leagues, Charles Dewitt assigned
Hopkins to Wichita, the
Browns’ top minor league affiliate.
He played Class A ball for
two seasons.
Lollar was eventually traded
to the White Sox following the
1951 season.
In 1951, Bill Veeck purchased
the Browns.
To draw fans, Veeck gave
them “fun ‘n games.”
Veeck once asked Hopkins
to ride a white horse into a
game as part of a “Hopalong
Cassidy” promotion. Hopalong
Cassidy was a popular television
show that aired from 1952-
54.
But Charlie refused.
“I told Bill I have never rode
on a horse my life,” he says. “I
said kids would be throwing
rocks the rest of the season if
they saw me come in riding a
horse.”
Charlie never regretted his
decision.
Veeck moved the Browns to
Baltimore after the 1953 season.
Hopkins played three seasons
with the San Antonio Missions
finally before being released
after the 1954 season.
In 1955, Charlie was hired
to manage the Seminole Oilers.
“It was worse than high
school,” he says of his managing
experience.
“They didn’t have a clubhouse
or a shower. You had to
walk to a shower a block down
the street. The owner handed
out baseballs like they were
gold nuggets.”
Charlie also had many arguments
with the Seminoles owner,
who once asked Hopkins to
drive the team’s bus.
A defensive-minded catcher,
Charlie compares himself to
former St. Louis Cardinals
catcher Mike Matheny.
“I can’t say I had anybody’s
number (hitting),” he says. “But
I believe the best player I ever
played against was (former St.
Louis Cardinal third baseman)
Ken Boyer.”
Charlie once got in a fight
with Boyer during the 1954
season after a collision at home
plate.
“It seemed like we fought an
hour,” Charlie says. “But it lasted
only five minutes.”
He has no regrets about
hanging up the spikes.
Charlie says his family was
waiting for him.
“And I had to come home,
where I had a job waiting for
me,” he says.
Advertisements

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s